Saturday, July 23, 2011

Movies to read

I love reading screenplays.

It was one of the first online activities I ever indulged in back circa 1994 when I launched myself into the then new frontier of cyberspace. I think it may have been Drew's Scrip-o-rama, or maybe one of its antecedents. It sparked a fire inside me to learn the craft. Which lead to writing them, which lead to books, which lead to this blog I am typing at this moment.

It is a good idea for all writers to read screenplays. Most who have done both novels and screenplays will say that scripts are far more difficult. But certainly it can argued the other way. One thing screenplays will teach for sure is discipline. Scripts all about are structure, structure, structure. Scripts are all about dialouge. Scripts are all about showing and not telling, and you have to show the reader an awful lot of story and character and action with very little page room to do it.

I also love reading novelizations of movies I like. Novelizing screenplays is a fascinating adaption in reverse process that fascinates me and is another hard to master discipline. Some writers are very good at this. Alan Dean Foster comes to mind.

This novelization of the 1983 David Cronenberg film Videodrome is very well done and was credited to "Jack Martin" which is pen name for the well regarded horror writer Dennis Etchison.

Here are a few images of some movies I love to read, both published screenplays and novelizations.

Older films and classic scripts are hard to read because the formatting was different and full of camera direction. And many movies are so director intensive and visual, they just don't make for satisfying reads. Examples would be the works of Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma,  Dario Argento, Spike Lee, or Oliver Stone.

Many of my favorite screenplays are not available in published book form (that I am aware of anyway). But some I like to read (and study) regularly include Back to the Future, Falling Down, the various drafts of  Total Recall, just about anything written by Paul Schrader, Bruce Joel Rubin, Lawrence Kasdan, Quentin Tarantino,  Daniel Waters, or Shane Black.

Also James Cameron. Contrary to what his detractors say, this guy can write. He can nail a distinct character and put a fully formed visual in your head, or describe an action sequence as good as anyone I have read. One of the best movie novelizations is the Abyss by Orson Scott Card. It makes for a great double feature read along side Cameron's screenplay.

When it comes to effectively describing a sex scene, no one did it better than guilty pleasure maestro Joe Eszterhas.

This is a novelization of Basic Instinct by Richard Osborne that follows the original script tightly.

Eszterhas's profanity laced neo-noir screenplays always make for an entertaining read.

David Cronenberg is a brilliant writer and director.

This is the published screenplay of his adaption of J.G. Ballard's novel for the 1996 subversive film. Both are must reads.

Steven Spielberg is not known as a writer, but Close Encounters is an excellent screenplay ( The conspiracy aspect seems to have been inspired by an early uncredited and mostly unused draft by Paul Schrader). Spielberg also did a great job with the final screenplay to A.I., based on the work of Kubrick, Ian Watson, and the short story by Brian Aldiss.

Justice, Gunner Star style

Caitlin Strikes Back, and Justice Gunner Star Style. Two dramatic readings of controversial scenes from Rise of the Bull Mongoni.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky

A chapter from the femme fatale science fiction thriller She.

The found footage of She changed everything. It sped up the process. It propelled me further along. I was on the verge of something—something fantastic, some thing wonderful.

I spent the next several days indulging myself in a surreal state of gyrating imagery. The lines around me were beginning to blur. I thought about Troy Matheson. I thought about Rob Snow. Who was right—the crackpot dreamer or the cynical pragmatist?

I thought about time travel. What would it take to get back
there, to find her?

I wondered which reality was more “real,” the one around
me, or the addictive worlds of projected celluloid I created in the sanctity of the chamber. I began wandering though my daily routine in such a semi-conscious, twilight state of mind that I often lost track of where I was and what I was doing.

“What the hell gives?” Kelly snapped during one of our routine I.C. Light beer commercial shoots.
She shoved the daily shot list in front of me to snap me out
of my daze.

Kelly was not amused by my escalating metal state of intense
preoccupation. She could sense my wavering stability. She had a flawlessly logical mind. No doubt, she would deduce that I had now become intensely focused on something other than the day-to-day operations of Super 8 Images.

And no doubt she would see it as an unacceptable threat to
the carefully cultivated and delicately structured life of suburban family bliss she had procured for herself.

“You need to spend more time interacting with real people
instead of video monitors and projected make believe,” Kelly
would preach as she scolded me.

Kelly was right, of course, from a practical and realistic viewpoint. But that was a viewpoint to which I no longer could relate. I had neither the means nor even the desire to access it. My foray into filmmaking was a means to an end. It was a way to acquire a certain set of skills necessary for my journey, skills that I had long ago mastered and was now putting to a more practical use in the chamber.

It was all about the search for She.

I existed on a different mental plane now, closer to Troy
Matheson’s world of lucid photons and free-flowing energy than I had ever been before. I was sur rounded by a mental carousal of self-created imagery, a soothing kaleidoscope of lurid, colorful worlds of wonder to which I had become addicted.

I rarely slept. Even my regimented routine of six small meals a day had
become a haphazard diet of protein bars, apples, and even Nestle Crunch bars wolfed down quickly so that I could return to the task at hand.

Maybe if I spent enough time with the imagery of She, then
perhaps I could bring her to me. Maybe I could literally try to will her existence into my life. Such were the thoughts of my manic imagination.

“Cousin, sometimes I think you’ve seen one movie too many,” Harlan would often say to me.

I found myself losing track of all time and space as I spent
endless hours in the Anti-Reality Chamber, gorging myself on
the stimulation of flesh and celluloid, living vicariously in the projected alternate universes I had helped create.

It was only there that I felt truly alive.
It was only there that I could find the answers for which I was searching.
It was only there that I could find hope, a chance to recapture what I had touched, if only for a fleeting instant, in the moment She had taken my hand all those years ago.

In the increasingly difficult to navigate “real” world, I felt disconnected. I felt numb.

I was lost, hopelessly adrift, and felt ill-equipped to function in a mundane world that was drowning in the frenetic pace and angst of its own hyper-ambitions. Only when I returned to the sanctity of the Anti-Reality Chamber was I able to get my bearings. Only there, in the isolation of my self-created cinema, did I not feel alone. Only there, surrounded by wall-sized projections of glorious escape, was I once again able to feel.
It was only there that I felt in touch with something greater than myself, a hand of fate making itself known, making me aware that I was not alone. Fate was there to guide me. It was all part of the plan.

I had a purpose. I had a quest. I had a destiny. I just needed to stay strong and see it all though to the end.

Read more about the search for She and journey back into the dark secrets of a forbidden past.

Above excerpt is from pages 78-80 of She by James J. Caterino
Copyright 2005, 2008, 2011
All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 15, 2011

I am not economically viable, I am obsolete

If ever there was a relevant time to rediscover a film, the time is now, and the film is 1993’s Falling Down. An insightful masterwork of well executed, stirring set pieces tied together by a haunting (and underrated) performance by Michael Douglas as Bill Foster, Falling Down is a film that provokes strong polarizing reactions.

It is a movie that holds up a mirror to the world around us. And not everyone will like what they see.
Falling Down tells the story of a distraught and recently displaced  loner. The movie shares a similar structure and nihilistic tone to the book  Action Figure.

Joel Schumacher is known today only as the persona non-grata who was demonized by fan boys everywhere for wrecking the Batman franchise before Christopher Nolan resurrected it in 2005. But back in 1993 Schumacher was a confident filmmaker at the top of his game and hot off of two artistic and commercial triumphs, The Lost Boys (1987) and Flatliners (1990).

Falling Down opens with a harrowing, brilliantly shot and executed sequence that sets the stage for Michael Douglas’s William “D-fens” Foster’s meltdown as he bursts out his car and says “I’m going home.”
Two standout scenes resonate long after the credits end and stay burned into the consciousness of the viewer.
The first is Bill Foster’s disturbing encounter with the homo-phobic racist neo-Nazi owner of an Army Surplus store. The scene is more terrifying and real today than ever before. One can easily imagine this neo-Nazi listening to Rush Limbaugh daily, worshipping at the altar of Glenn Beck, and showing up at the fringe extreme of a Tea Party rally.
The other unforgettable encounter is when Bill Foster hides out in the pool house of a plastic surgeon with the family of groundskeeper who he walked in on using the pool.
It is here that Bill Foster tries so desperately to connect to the idealized family he wants back but never really had. The scene is a showcase for the talents of Michael Douglas. The aching pain he makes us feel during a beautifully written monologue demonstrates why this film is Douglas’s best performance.
And speaking of writing, the screenplay by Ebbe Roe Smith is a brilliant portrayal of the hero’s journey in reverse. It is clean, precise storytelling at its most efficient and most effective.

It is interesting to note that the only sense of optimism is provided by the Prendergast character played by Robert Duvall. He is in many ways on the same journey as the Bill Foster character. But when Robert Duvall’s Prendergast goes on his “rampage” and punches out an annoying co-worker, tells off his nagging wife, and stands up to his bullying Police Captain boss ("fuck you very much Captain"), there is a sense of exhilaration for both the character and the audience.
Robert Duvall’s character will at last get to become the cop on the street and be re-united with his true love, his partner Rachel Ticotin. Her character is perhaps the only unselfish and truly likable character in a world of angry haters.
But unlike Bill Foster’s doomed fate, Prendergast’s redemption is Hollywood baloney and is quickly forgotten by the audience. What does linger in the mind is the disturbing sadness that resonates on the home video tape still playing on as the credits start to roll to James Newton Howard’s haunting music (one of the great unreleased soundtracks of all time).
A lost family from a past that never can be recaptured by a man who is no longer “economically viable”, and has no reason to go on. There really is no place in our society for a childless forty year old man who is “over-educated and under skilled”. So you might as well take on your enemies as they approach you one at a time until you end up floating in the water with a bullet in you. You are obsolete. You are not “economically viable”.
There is no place in this world for you. So why are you still breathing anyway?
Falling Down holds up a mirror to society around us and what we see is not pretty. But in an era when thirty million people hang on every word Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann say, the hate merchants dominate the airwaves and become overnight millionaires, and raging Tea Party Patriots and armed militias threaten to “take back their country”; it is a film that is more relevant than ever before.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Top three on my Fight Club list

You know the deal.

To paraphrase from the David Fincher film based on the Chuck Palahuniuk book; if you could fight anyone you wanted, who would you fight?

My top three right now on this ever changing wish list are the following:

Chris Christi, Governor of New Jersey

The entire basis of the Bull Mongoni philosophy of Gunner Star, Action Figure, and Rise of the Bull Mongoni is anti-Bully. Nothing makes my blood boil more and sends me into a barbaric rage than the mere thought of a despicable bully.

Chris Christi loves to prove what a tough guy he is by turning down federal money for the state's crumbling roads and bridges, trying to bust unions, intimidating school teachers, and cutting funds for environmental safety and public schools.

But at the same time he insists on using taxpayer funds for personal indulgences by having a Homeland Security helicopter fly him and his and wife to a little league game. He also has a tax payer funded limo drive him and his wife less that one hundreds yards.Christi loves to choke money out of education and environmetal programs, but apparently the fat fuck has no probelm using state funds rather than walk less than a hundred yards across a parking lot like us common folk.

Chris Christi can be best summed up by his response to the same question by two different people.

When a poor little lady asked him why he sends his kids to private schools and keeps cutting funds for public schools, the rotund Governor exploded with a mean-spirited nasty rage.

"None of your business," he snapped in his best Tony Soprano fake mafioso tough guy voice. He practically tore her head off.

A few days later Christi was an in studio guest on the Morning Joe program on MSNBC. Let us give a Bull Mongoni salute to Joe Scarborough who went at him right away with the same exact question.

Of course Christi cowered like a baby. He was sweet as pie and actually answered the question in a submissive tone. Funny isn't it, how when a bully is confronted with a formidable foe, they always reveal themselves to be the coward, fear-filled, baby pussies they really are.

As for the fight itself,. I would take him seriously because of his ultra obese size. A big man, even when he is  soft as a jelly donut, can always be dangerous. So I would stay outside and pick him apart with quick strikes until he was exhausted. Then move in, finish it and make him cry "kregar" which is surrender in Bull Mongoni.

Donald Trump

What can I say about Donald Trump that was not already exposed during his recent fake Presidential bid. Of all the weak things and cowering to the right Obama has done, he almost made up for it all with by destroying Trump at that Correspondence dinner.

"The Donald" may be the most self centered obnoxious born with a silver spoon fortune in his mouth arrogant prick of our time, but hey, at least we now know that he has "always had a great relationship with the blacks."

As for the fight itself, I would take great pleasure in absolutely embarrassing this phony tough guy. It would be easy to end the fight quickly. One smack in the face and Trump would squeal and sob like the pussy coward he is. But I would take my time, make the fight last, and relish every second of humiliating this real life Gunner Star/Action Figure villain.

Donald Trump is a punk.

Dylan Ratigan, The Dylan Ratigan Show MSNBC

As any Fight Club fan knows, it is not about winning the fight. It is about getting to know who you are and how can you know anything about yourself if you never lost a fight. I learned more about myself when I got my ass beat in a 1983 brawl than I ever did from any victorious street fracas.

I like Dylan Ratigan. He is non-ideological and closer to my own political and economic sensibilities than any other cable news host. He is from the real world, and the world of Wall Street where I too spent fourteen years in an industry where someone would "cut your balls off" for a nickel. Dylan knows the real reason behind all of our problems. The game is rigged and that is why we are fucked. And the only way to get unfucked is to derigg the game, which will never happen.

Dylan Ratigan is the only cable news host who tells is like it is. He is also the only cable news host who could kick my ass.

He reminds me of one of my football coaches in college. Just by watching him you know this guy has some Bull Mongoni in him. This is not a man you want to piss off. . And he looks big too. My guess is 6'4" and maybe 250lbs.

He would be formidable indeed and I would enjoy the challenge of engaging him in a balls to the wall fierce battle of flesh and fury. And I would learn something about myself in the process.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Experiment

A simmering passage from the femme fatale science fiction thriller She.

Valerie had a wicked buzz by the time we returned to the Cinema
360. We had been out to dinner at the Riverside Barge, a chic
new eatery down on the water front. Afterwards, we stopped off
at the Voodoo Lounge, currently the hot, downtown nightspot in
the strip.

I wanted Valerie now more than ever.
Maybe it was her connection to Corrina. Maybe I somehow
saw her as a way to physically connect with the long-harboring
obsessions, a way to make the metaphysical real.

Maybe it was just plain lust.

I could not explain it. I could only feel it. I didn’t want to
analyze it. I only wanted to act on it. Emotion was the key to
it all—pure, primitive, real emotion. I was desperately hoping
that last night’s dramatic revelations had not done any thing to
dampen Valerie’s wellspring of libido.

The sparks of physical attraction she seemed to radiate were
unlike anything I had ever encountered before. Just being in
her presence would stir deep-seeded, primal lust in any man (or
woman for that matter), and after a long night of being with her
and just talking, staring, and imagining, I was insane with wanton

I didn’t waste any time.

As soon as we closed the door behind us, I groped for her like a savage.

Emotion was the key to it all—pure, primitive, real emotion.
When my mouth made contact with hers, my tongue met the
barrier of her sealed lips. I persisted, moving my hands up along
the soft sheen of her lean thighs, stroking my fingers up under her
skirt and around the back to the baby softness of her bare ass.

I went to kiss her again, but this time her mouth opened up
to mine.

I began to feel the kindling of passion and desire rising up
inside her; a passion and desire that had nearly overwhelmed me
last time we were together. But this time was different. This time
she was not focused. This time she was holding back. This time
her flesh did not respond to my touch.

I had to find a way to ignite her passion, a way to recapture
the magic of our night together last week. I wanted her. I needed
her. I had to have her. Every thing depended on it.

That’s when it suddenly hit me, a way take it all to the next
level. (“The more intense the emotion, the greater the access.”) It
was time for me to implement my new strategy.

“Want to try a few things?” I asked.

I motioned to the Anti-Reality Chamber behind her.
As soon as I began presenting the risqué fantasy, Valerie was
in character before I could finish the saying the words.
Based on the bizarre role-playing game she had lead me into
on our last encounter, it was probably what she was trying to
goad me into earlier anyway. Everybody had a secret fetish, a
dark desire that was forbidden and yet so arousing that the mere
thought of it tapped into powerful, primitive drives of the id.

Apparently, I had stumbled upon Valerie’s.

Tonight, we would spur our animal passions to life by once
again playing out the story beats of Valerie’s lurid fantasy scenario.
Only this time we would take it further—much further.
(“The more intense the emotion, the greater the access.”) This
would be the first true test of Matheson’s theories.

Read more about the search for She and journey back into the dark secrets of a forbidden past.

Copyright 2005, 2008, 2011 James J Caterino All Rights Reserved
Above excerpt is from pages 118-119 of She, Chapter 23 "The Experiment".

Friday, July 8, 2011

Regarding J.J.

I recently watched the Harrison Ford starring Mike Nichols directed 1991 film Regarding Henry. I remember seeing it in the theater back in 1991, being really moved by it, and including it on my Best Ten list of that year.

It was wonderful rediscovering it.  Understated direction by Mike Nichols, superb on location NYC cinematography, and one of Harrison Ford's most versatile roles where he gets to play outside of his normal stoic range and pulls it off quite nicely.

Annette Bening is terrific as his wife. Her engaging performance in this film, as her character fights to hold it together in the aftermath of a tragedy, demonstrates why she is one of the great underrated actresses of the past twenty years. She owns every scene she is in with her very presence alone in an old school movie star kind of way.

But the true heart of this film is their twelve year old daughter Rachel Turner played with Fanning like realism by Mikki Allen. For it is she who moves the emotional arc forward of not only her parents, but the movie itself. There is is also a wonderful character named Bradley who serves as the Henry's mentor is the classic Hero's Journey  fashion. He is played with charismatic warmth by the Pittsburgh born character actor Bill Dunn.

Two great joys about seeing this movie again:

One was the beautiful score by Hans Zimmer.

Zimmer is a composer best known for his uber cool Oscar nominated strains of Inception and his massive testosterone sonic blasts for movies like Crimson Tide, The Peace Keeper,  and The Dark Knight. But Regarding Henry shows a subtle, original voice that proves Zimmer can create deep emotional music as well. I will be hunting down a copy of this long out of print soundtrack to add to my collection.

The second joy was the discovery that this movie was written by none other that J.J Abrams. And it shows because the one trademark that is unmistakable in all of Abrams' work... Lost, Fringe, Star Trek, and especially Super 8... is that is expertly paced and emotionally involving.

I am officially putting Regarding Henry into my Overlooked and Underrated Hall of Fame.

There is a great cover story about J.J Abrams in the current issue of Creative Screenwriting.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Confessions of a magazine junkie

I admit I have a serious obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to magazines.

For as long as I can remember, the colorful racks of newsstands were like crack to me. I spent many days of my youth, and adulthood, roaming for hours among the strategically placed glossy covers of four color crack. Packages designed to lure me in with the promise of something new, or exciting, or secretive, or sexier than anything I had going on in the mundane banality of real life.

And lure me in they did.

I never was one to stand there lumbering over a newsstand  like a derelict (or in today's world sitting in a Barnes and Noble). To me that was somehow cheating the writers and photographers and illustrators who worked so hard to create the crack I so desperately craved. If I see a magazine I like, I simple must possess it. I must take it home where I can drink in the articles and relish the imagery and artwork over and over to satisfy my fix.

If I were asked the infamous Katie Couric question "what magazines and newspapers do you read", unlike a certain thin-skinned, vapid, vindictive, ignorant, fraudulent, greedy, hate mongering, lying, former half-Governor, I would have plenty to say.

Many of the publications I have obessed over are no longer around such as the Frederick S. Clarke edited Cinefantastique, by far the best genre magazine ever created. Others are so dry and technical...The Economist, American Cinematographer, The New England Journal of Medicine...they would bore most sane people to death.

Bottom line, the magazines a person reads reveal alot about who they really are. And in my case, that might not be such a good thing.

Below are a few of the more colorful magazines I have sitting at arms length from this keyboard right now.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Top five most moving Spielberg moments

Damn you Spielberg.  You got me again with that War Horse trailer.

There is just something about the way Steven Spielberg directs, or more specifically the combination of Steven Spielberg imagery and John Williams music. It seduces you. It calls to you. It draws you in and somehow bypasses all of the built up cynical armor in normally cold-hearted bastards like me.

It cuts right to the main artery of unfiltered raw emotion.

I vividly recall seeing E.T. for the third time in 1982. It was at the end of football camp my freshman year and I was with a group of players. These were testosterone stoked freaks, seriously tough guys. And let’s just say the film worked quite well. Everyone in the theater that night was as emotionally involved with a movie as I have seen before or since.

The bearded one’s career has had several peaks followed by periods where it looked like his best work was far behind him and his skills were on the wane like a Hall of Fame quarterback creeping up on 40 years of age.

The most recent such peak for me was his creative explosion of 2001-2002.  He directed one of the most fascinating films of all time, the deeply moving (and deeply polarizing) A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg followed that up with two more masterworks the next year; Minority Report, arguably one of the best science fiction film since Blade Runner, and the highly enjoyable, breezy Catch Me If You Can.

Then came a serious decline with three big letdowns. Dakota Fanning was fantastic in War of the Worlds, but the whole 9-11 parable felt forced and phoney. I hated the Tim Robbins character. And the movie has one of the most brutal blatant ripoff visual effect set pieces I have ever seen, a sequence that comes right of the Abyss almost shot for shot.

Next was the pretentious Oscar bait, Munich. Artificially arty and dull. And the less said about Indy 4 the better.

The majestic War Horse trailer was such a revelation to me because I had written Spielberg off years ago and figured the closest thing I would ever get to experiencing Spielberg magic again would be via proteges such as J.J. Abrams in homages like the superb Super 8.

But as soon as I hit play and that trailer started and the sounds of John Williams reached inside me as the imagery unfolded, I began to feel something. Something from the past. Something wonderful. I began to think that maybe the old Spielberg magic was still alive after all.
We will find out in December if War Horse can live up to the promising trailer and the legacy of its legendary director. In the meantime, let’s take a look back into some iconic emotional moments of the man who once said, "I dream for a living."

My top five most moving Spielberg directed moments.

Over the Moon - E.T. 1982

The first time E.T. lifts Elliot and his bike into the sky, it becomes their moment and ours, and one that will live on forever.

Signing - Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977

The spectacular finale when the Francois Truffaut character finally gets to realize his lifelong dream and stand before beings from another world; it feels like witnessing a religious event.

If you were there on that Thanksgiving weekend in November of 1977, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Cadillacs of the Skies - Empire of the Sun 1987

A young Christian Bale running across the rooftop of the prison camp trying to reach up into the air and touch God.

I get chills just thinking about the first time I saw this scene.

Reunion - The Color Purple 1985

When two long lost sisters finally re-unite with a beautifully mounted dolly shot set to the heartbreaking Sisters theme (by Quincy Jones in John Williams mode), the film gets an orgasmic emotional release that only Spielberg pull off.

The film garnered 11 Academy Award nominations but a spiteful Academy denied one to Spielberg. Still might be the worst Best Director snub in Oscar history

Resurrection - A.I. 2001

The combination of Kubrick's cold existential intellectualistism and Spielberg's emotional spiritualism makes for a facinating experience.

The entire final 20 minute act of A.I. is among the most deeply affecting pieces of cinema I have ever experienced. Haunting and achingly sad.